Je suis Nice
© courtesy of Jim Roberts

I first visited Nice exactly 10 years ago.

Some of the memories have merged or faded over time, but the image that remains seared into my brain is the view from la Colline du Château. From an elevation of about 100 meters, you can gaze over the old city (la Vielle Ville), the Cours Saleya, the pebble beach, the Promenade, and the airport in the distance.

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From there you can see the swimmers in the azure waters, the packed ferry departing for Corsica, the strollers, the runners, the bicyclists. Teens on rollerblades and the elderly walking slowly with their canes.

The life.

Those were the types of people that Nice welcomed. And the types of people who perished last night.

It’s impossible to write this without tears. Since that visit 10 years ago, Nice has become a second home. I’ve walked across the stretch of the Promenade des Anglais, where so many lives were crushed under the wheels of a speeding truck, scores, maybe hundreds of times.

I’ve gasped at the overwhelming beauty and vitality. I’ve marveled at the vast array of languages that are spoken by the tourists who arrive every day, year-round. I’ve become addicted to the cultural and culinary mashup of French and Italian influences.

I’ve wrapped myself in the thickest of crowds during the warm summer months and in the quiet seclusion of cold rainy nights in December.

I’ve spent hours wandering through flea markets and getting turned around in the old city. I’ve tried desperately to learn the language, but at my age it’s been a sad struggle, and what the hell, it hardly matters in such a mixed culture.

The city has developed quite a bit in the past decade. The former Mayor, Christian Estrosi, was heavy-handed in some of his actions, like his crackdown on whistling, but Nice prospered during his tenure.

Thanks to his efforts, the city will soon see the opening of a new underground rail line linking the Port area to the airport, a municipal improvement that will likely make the city even more welcoming to visitors from afar.

And in the center of the city, his administration oversaw the construction of the Promenade du Paillon, a gorgeous park and playground that sits atop Le Paillon riverbed and replaced an old and decaying bus station.

Having lived in New York for 30 years, I have never underestimated the ability of terrorists to wreak havoc anywhere. I was on the Brooklyn Bridge when the North Tower collapsed and will never forget the wave of heat and dust that enveloped me as it happened.

I knew Nice was vulnerable. I’ve been there twice since the Nov. 13 attack in Paris and was there only a few weeks after the airport attack in Brussels. Despite those attacks and France’s “state of emergency,” the security presence always seemed minimal. On the Promenade, on the beach, and around the always-crowded Cours Saleya.

Even in the Côte d'Azur International Airport, it was business as usual.

And despite the praise that French President François Hollande heaped today on security forces for “neutralizing” the truck-driving assailant, questions need to be asked about how and why the driver was allowed to progress along his killing spree for more than a kilometer before he was stopped and killed.

A friend asked me yesterday whether I would return to Nice. Of course I will, I responded. “My soul is invested there.” Life is short, you see, and I’m not about to give up that beauty and splendor because of a maniac with a truck.

It will be impossible to think that the city I love won’t be forever changed by this. The blood will be cleaned up, tourists will continue to arrive, restaurants and bars will reopen. Yet the scars will remain.

Still, as Paris did months ago, Nice will recover, in a fashion. The French have obviously endured much worse and are experts in resilience.

I will stand with them.

Jim Roberts is a consulting editor for The Hill and is a part-time resident of Nice.


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